Brexit reflections from Sir John Redwood

Brexit reflections from Sir John Redwood

Here is the first in our series reflecting on the Brexit process with regular BrexitCentral authors and others who have played an important role in our journey out of the European Union. Here are the answers to our questions from Conservative MP Sir John Redwood.

BC: When did you first come to the view that the UK would be better off out of the EU? Did you ever think that the EU could be reformed from within to make membership tolerable for the UK? Tell us how your views developed over time on the issue.

I first thought we would be best off out when I was asked by my employer as a young analyst to write a report and economic forecast ahead of the 1975 referendum on continued membership of the EEC. I researched it thoroughly and produced a forecast which showed the asymmetric reduction of tariffs and barriers would heavily favour France, Germany and Italy and penalise us, as there was no proposed removal of barriers in services where we were strong. Continental countries were also good at playing the EEC rules on subsidies and other protection to their benefit. I forecast correctly we would move into a heavy balance of trade and payments deficit and stay there.

Our membership ushered in a dreadful period of factory closures and job losses in the 1970s, as the removal of industrial goods tariffs revealed our lack of competitiveness in areas like steel, cars, textiles and machine tools. The EEC/EU was also good at embodying standards and requirements that favoured large established continental producers. I also forecast that the financial settlement would weigh heavily on us, with large and growing net contributions, themselves a further strain on our balance of payments. That again was right, as I did not foresee the Thatcher renegotiation at that point which abated the increase but still left us as heavy net payers.

My employer was not pleased with my conclusions, so I had an early warning of just how strongly and irrationally the UK establishment was wedded to our membership.

BC: What was your most memorable moment during the referendum campaign?

My most memorable moment was when Vote Leave phoned me to tell me of the Remain campaign’s pessimistic forecasts for the economy on a Leave vote and the emergency Budget the Chancellor envisaged. I laughed when told about it, as it struck me as absurd. I told them I and doubtless many other Conservative MPs would not back a punishment Budget, doing exactly the wrong things to the economy were we to vote to quit. The issue soon became why did the Chancellor want to punish the UK for leaving, and who would vote for it?

BC: Who was the most unlikely ally you campaigned with or shared a platform with during the referendum? Did you strike up any unexpected new friendships across traditional political divides?

I got on well with a number of Labour MPs who were equally committed to restoring the UK’s power for self-government.

BC: Where were you on referendum night? How did it feel?

I was waiting in a BBC studio for an interview on the result which they of course delayed and eventually cancelled because it was not the result they were expecting. I guess they only wanted to interview me if we lost. I had told them when invited I expected us to win. I was surprised so many thought Remain would win given the dreadfully negative and pessimistic campaign they had fought and their unwillingness to explain why being in the EU but sidelined by not being in the Euro was such a good idea. None of my opponents was prepared to defend economic and political union or even accept it was happening!

BC: Did you think then that it would take as long as it has for Brexit to actually happen?

No. I assumed the losing side would accept the democratic verdict.

BC: Were there any moments in these last few years since the referendum when you thought the prize could yet be snatched from us?

No. The voters will not let the establishment do that.

BC: Do you think the British electoral landscape will return to type once Brexit has been delivered? Or will Brexit have caused a lasting change to the political map of Britain?

I think Brexit will continue to change the political landscape of the UK. So many MPs got elected to the 2017 Parliament saying they would support Brexit, only to do everything in their power to stop it. This has created distrust which will take a long time to dispel for those people and parties involved.

BC: What changes do you want/hope to see made now that the UK has taken back control? Can you summarise your vision for Brexit Britain?

I want a Brexit bonus Budget to spend the extra money we save on EU contributions on a combination of tax cuts and better services. I want to end Maastricht rules austerity. The main aim of economic policy should be to promote greater prosperity, not to reduce debt as a percentage of GDP. I think the UK has been held back by EU membership and more recently by an establishment striving to make Project Fear come true. Once we are out we will have so much scope to be global in reach and influence. We will regain our votes and voice on major international bodies, and will be a force for democracy and free trade worldwide. With the right policies we can be better off from this year onwards. It requires a more relaxed economic policy, tailor-made to promote UK growth and investment.

BC: Do you have any special plans for 1st February, our first day outside the EU?

Yes, I will celebrate with a suitable dinner.